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Friday, 03 September 2010

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Gary Farber

What's the minimal amount, or quality, of online-only interaction necessary to courteously put one on a first name basis without explicitly asking permission, do you think?

Serious question.

SEK

I'm not sure, Gary, but I think it's at least as much as we've had. The thing is, though he no doubt doesn't remember it, I've actually met him a few years ago at this shindig--which is where I also met Hilzoy, Attackerman, etc.--but I doubt he remembers little ol' me, as I was a nobody back then. (Not to mention now, but I like to pretend otherwise.)

John Emerson

You really shouldn't publish this kind of thing because it encourages drunken, ill-tempered populists and nihilists who think that The University is doomed and that that's probably a good thing.

As it has developed, one of the functions of the university is to define a technocratic elite group. (Something like that has always been a function of the university, and this is a specific form of it.)

For this to work, there has to be a bright line. PhDs and ful professors can't just be people who know the same kinds of things as normal people, but just know more things and know them better. They have to know things that the normal person is incapable of understanding and will automatically reject. If normal people can understand what you're saying, you're doing it wrong.

One of the themes of the book on populism Gellner edited ca. 1970 was "Everyone knows about populism, but know one can say what it is". Tentative answers were proposed. According to Laclau ("On populist reason") the situation hadn't changed 30-odd years later.

The answer is this. "Populism" is a constitutive social-science concept. Not the outcome of social science investigation and analysis, but one of the always-already-theres of social science. The populist is the non-social-scientist who thinks that he knows something about reality, and he is the bitter enemy of the social scientist, since if it were possible for non-social-scientists to know anything, or to understand social scientists, what good would those PhDs be?

That shown, I'd just like to point out that Ivy League whiz kids of the Yglesian type just have gone through four years of constant association with academics of the social science type. (Throw in philosophers and literary studies technicians). They've been trained like dogs to be incapable of communicating with or understanding what the folk have to say. Is it really a good idea for the Democratic Party and liberal opinion magazines to hire persons of this type?

Karl Steel

Here's my little self-pitying story. So, like, animals studies is the hot thing, and likely to remain so for, oh, another 6 months or so. From 2006 on (I think), I shared tons of work from my diss. on In the Middle, to my benefit: whatever's cool or interesting in it is because I was trying to have it make sense/be interesting in a blog world. For anyone who's into medieval studies, and critical animal theory, I'm just a google search away.

And then I published an article on a the subject in a pretty good, theory intensive medieval journal. Took a year and a half to come out, but it came out. And I thought: this is IT. Now people are REALLY going to read me. And then I got cited in the flagship (toilet reading) journal by a guy who's a big deal medieval scholar. COOL. This is IT. Finally.

This story wouldn't be worth telling if it didn't have a some peripeteia. At a flagship medieval conference this summer, I attended 3 (three) of 4 (four) sessions on medieval lit and critical animal theory and I was cited 0 (zero) times. Uh. This isn't because my work wasn't relevant or interesting to the subject at hand. It was, and it is.

It suggests that not only does no one read our work: WE don't read our work. When my book comes out next year, I fully expect it to be swallowed up into library stacks, and my tenure and promotion, and to represent nothing OTHER than a steady job and years and years of work.

Thank goodness for the blog.

Karl Steel

Is it really a good idea for the Democratic Party and liberal opinion magazines to hire persons of this type?
Sure. Matt Y's a good writer and he doesn't have an advanced degree. If that's the type you mean.

And, as the review essays in the The Nation show, there's a market (however small) for intelligent writing by academics for non-specialists (I think of Samuel Moyn or Eric Foner's many, many pieces over the last few years, none of which I thought was stupid).

My point is that it's not just that the 'common man' doesn't read us. He doesn't read ANYONE. So whatever: I don't feel singled out. It's that WE don't read each other. A few people get read, but the average journal article is cited how many times? Twice? If that?

John Emerson

Matt's a good writer, but he's an Ivy, and his range of experience and sympathy is extraordinarily limited. His recent claim (in the Kos review) that paranoid Republican accusations haven't elected anyone is a case in point, though he'd know better if he just read the newspapers carefully.

It isn't the only reason, but the Ivy wonk staffing of the Democratic Party apparat is one of the reasons why the Democrats are incapable of making a populist appeal even when it would be easy and profitable to do so.

Ahistoricality

the Ivy wonk staffing of the Democratic Party apparat

is not noticeably different from the staffing of the Republican Party apparat, in socioeconomic terms. They grow up in a different rhetorical tradition, though. Seriously, Emerson, I didn't think you were the sort who drew lines through a single data point.

Karl, under those circumstances, I don't think there'd be anything remiss with sending the panelists a link after the conference with the traditional self-deprecating "you might be interested" note. (In my case, a majority of the people who might cite my stuff probably read it during peer-review: it's a small world.)

John Emerson

For the record, I have no particular animus against Yglesias personally, and used to be a regular at his site. There' s just too much of an inbalance.

Not being noticeably different than Republican Party staffing is not in any way a positive thing. The Republican party is supposed to be the defender of privilege.

As far as the Republican Party goes, though, boss man Karl Rove had one year of college at Utah, and the Republicans get a lot of staff from semi-criminal College Republicans from shit colleges. (Do I think that the Democrats should hire more semi-criminal types? Yes! -- though that would not be enough all by itself. During its glory days there were a fair number of thugs in the Democratic Party).

Rich Puchalsky

Yglesias supported the Iraq War, didn't he? I have no trouble with using that as a bright line that means that no one should take anything he writes on politics seriously ever again. In the brief times I've read him, I've never seen him write anything insightful, so I don't see why he'd be missed. Mostly his stuff is like the linked post: surprise that the world doesn't work according to his naive worldview.

"[...] I fully expect it to be swallowed up into library stacks, and my tenure and promotion, and to represent nothing OTHER than a steady job and years and years of work."

Um... is that a complaint, that the paper will get you nothing other than a steady job? And that you can still write on your blog all you want?

John Emerson

One year Kenneth Rexroth put the entire run of one journal on reserve at the school where he taught so that he could check to see how many people would read it. According to Rexroth, the number was zero.

Rexroth was a story-teller, of course.

John Emerson

I've also been told that in most fields "interdisciplinary" work is discouraged, or rather, that any given field there will only be certain other fields within which it is permissible to communicate. This probably is less true of English than other fields, since English is pretty slutty.

Andrew R.

This is very much a humanities problem, and more specifically, a humanities problem in North America. After all, the natural sciences actually have magazines like Nature that publish cutting edge research for a general audience. I'm told that the UK has magazines that do the same thing for history.

So I suspect that if we had magazines of cutting edge research for a general audience, tenure committees might be a little bit less harumphy about that sort of thing.

Karl Steel

Not the Paper, Rich. The book. My complaint is that since virtually no one's going to read it, all it's going to get me is a steady job. If I just wanted a steady job, I could have got that just about anywhere. No need to belabor the point of why speaking into nothing for $ might annoy.

In re: Yglesias: there's a standard argument about Yglesias, Drum, and Klein, which has been done repeatedly at Sadly No. I don't see the need to recap it here. Here's a nice new version of the argument, though, in re: American Taliban.

@Ahist: nah, no point, unless they're about to publish. At that point, through peer review comments, they might figure out I exist, Or they won't. I'll just keeping plugging along. Next thing to come out, btw, is this. At least I'll not be read in esteemed company.

@JE: The difference isn't the wan temperament of those with Ivy degrees (and here I speak as an Ivy PhD) and cf'd to uneducated oafs like Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, and Rove, or folks with third-rate doctorates like Gingrich. The Dem establishment can't make a populist appeal bc a populist appeal from the left requires a systemic critique of capitalism, whereas a populist critique from the right supports capitalism, since anything that makes workers more vulnerable and paranoid and atomized saps their capacity to self-organize. Therefore one populist critique is not like the other. So long as both parties are beholden to big business, there will be no establish Dem populist critique. This reliance on big business and big money is especially evident in the Senate; one is much more likely to find someone like Feingold in the House than in the Senate, whereas populist rightists increasingly dominate the Republican house and senate. Thus Yglesias's and Klein's frequent criticism of the Senate and calls for its abolishment go a long way towards fixing one problem with American "democracy."

Wally
So I suspect that if we had magazines of cutting edge research for a general audience, tenure committees might be a little bit less harumphy about that sort of thing.

Are you implying that there's such a thing as cutting-edge research in literary studies?

John Emerson

"Uneducated oafs like Limbaugh, Beck, Palin, and Rove, or folks with third-rate doctorates like Gingrich."

There's a middle term between the Ivy League and morons.

As I said, "It isn't the only reason". Hiring Ivies and being bought by the corporate world are hand in glove. The media / politico elite is being drawn from an increasingly narrow pool of privileged kids who, even though they might feel squirrelly about corporate dominance, have no concept of how to resist it.

Beyond saying that the word populist, as used, remains undefined, I'd say that some usages are just wrong. A lot of today's supposed populists are goldbugs, for example. The billionaire Koch brothers are populists. Ridiculous. "Populist" has to mean something more than and other than "anti-intellectual and racist". The word has become a pejorative, with the worst traits of the worst populists cherry-picked to define the word. xx

Karl Steel

Sorry for vagueness. I think CUNY offers a good PhD, for example, but I aim biased. "Third-rate doctorate" bc Gingrich's diss, from what I hear, sucks: here and here.

Comment above in re: who reads my work etc. Written late at night, when I tend to be gloomy. Not sure I'd support it now.

onymous

I can't imagine an academic discipline where people don't read each other's work. Seriously? I check daily for relevant new papers in my field on arxiv, and if something looks important enough, I find time to read it within the week. Most of the people I know (in my field) spend most of their time working on things that are outgrowths of ideas someone else had within the last year or so. I have plenty of cultural complaints about my field, but one where people don't read each other seems about as dysfunctional as things could get.

JPool

Yeah, there's a difference between "third-rate doctorate" and "third-rate dissertation." Maybe don't try to present anything at Tulane for a little while.

Karl Steel

there's a difference between "third-rate doctorate" and "third-rate dissertation."
No kidding?

Maybe don't try to present anything at Tulane for a little while.
Wasn't planning on it.

Beyond saying that the word populist, as used, remains undefined, I'd say that some usages are just wrong.
That is true. How do you define it?
I imagine we all read the same blogs: Digby's recent post on a left populist agenda perhaps answers some of your concerns. For another viewpoint, there's a Zizek piece in I think The New Left Review from 2008 or so: can't handily track it down, but I'm sure you could.

My point, again, is that a right wing mass movement* has the support of the powers that be among the Republicans. Any left wing mass movement has not and will not have the support of the powers that be among the Democrats. This is because leftist mass movements engage in a systemic critique of capitalism, whereas rightist mass movements, at least as they've appeared in this country--so far as I know!--serve the aims of capitalism. This is why I think we're doomed (and by 'we' I mean leftists, academics, and the assorted others the right wants eliminated).

Note: I've said elsewhere that the belief that changing American demographics will save the Democrats is this year's Bowen/Sosa report.

* will you accept this as a placeholder for "populism"? at least until your definition comes around the mountain?

[Likely the person impersonating SEK]

Pretty funny that you would diss peer-review so.

It's pretty much the sine qua non of global warming, isn't it?

"Oh, so show me a peer reviewed paper that agrees with your counter AGW position!"

"Oh, so that peer reviewed paper doesn't count!"

"Oh, so we'll keep that one out even if we have to change the peer review process!"

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